Afghanistan, 1975: Twelve-year-old Amir is desperate to win the local kite-fighting tournament and his loyal friend Hassan promises to help him. But neither of the boys can foresee what will happen to Hassan that afternoon, an event that is to shatter their lives. After the Russians invade and the family is forced to flee to America, Amir realises that one day he must return to Afghanistan under Taliban rule to find the one thing that his new world cannot grant him: redemption.
Picking this up at the airport was always going to be a risk. as bestsellers always seem to be these days when it to comes to quality. As expected it was an easy book to get into and a quick read, I enjoyed it to begin with, reading 132 pages in one sitting. Further on there were a few problems that niggled me and ultimately the book became distinctly average.
The first part of the book is superior to the rest by a country mile (or indeed a mile of any sort). The depiction of Afghanistan and the life as seen through Amir’s eyes was interesting and his relationship with Hassan was one worth investing in . Seeing the distinctions of class and race, as well as the influence of religion and the day-to-day life rituals of Afghans was something new and refreshing to read about.
I didn’t like Amir at all, he does nothing to endear himself to the reader but I appreciated that, it gives the writing more impact when I did feel sympathy for him. His relationships with friends and family are decently done, enough to keep me caring about the characters throughout but never overly so.
There is some good prose – again mainly in the first part – and for a time I was totally engaged with the novel and the characters, sadly that ended with the first part of the book and it became more imprecise in its focus before descending into generic bestseller fare. That is not to say that there wasn’t anything good to speak of in the latter ha;f, I found the nod to a lack of integration or acceptance of older immigrants, into new countries and cultures to be a good topic to approach. Similarly the intolerance of Islam and the hypocritical way some have of applying religion, which stretches to all religions is a timely topic to write about.
The Afghans have had it particularly bad in recent history, the internal divisions of Islam, foreign powers invading and local powers vying for power in the vacuum between invasions, and the inequality of women. The results of years of war and its human face are presented well in the book, as is the pride of Afghans over their land and history, and the eradication and erosion of both, especially by the Taliban. There were not many women in the book and those ones that are, aren’t particularly memorable or strongly developed, however.
In the end I thought the novel was over stretched and some of the later incidents were a bit too coincidental or, I’m sorry to say ridiculous enough to laugh at. It started to feel a little like a soap opera in places, with forced plot twists – designed to emotionally manipulate – piling up, to keep you reading. It was too heavy-handed in this regard. At the other end of the scale, there wasn’t too much character or relationship development and one of the characters came across as a ridiculous caricature, thereby losing all impact.
Although I make no secret of my lack of interest in bestsellers – usually for all the above reasons – I do dabble and went into this one with an open mind. I was engaged to begin with but forced plot and a lack character development caused me to lose interest to the point where completing it was necessary just to give a fair review. Had the tone of the first half carried on, it is safe to say I would read another Hosseini book, as it is, I probably won’t.